Thumb-Sucking and Pacifier Usage

Is your child a habitual thumb-sucker or pacifier user? Are pacifiers and thumb-sucking always a bad thing? Like many parents, you may be concerned about your child’s habit and wonder if it is truly harmful.

Questions like “what age should the habit be broken” and “what will happen if my child does not stop” may arise in your head. Though these habits may be soothing to infants and young children, continuing past a certain age can cause many oral health concerns and should be discussed.
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IT’S NATURAL

Pacifiers, thumb-sucking, or finger-sucking are not entirely bad habits. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry understands and recognizes that thumb-sucking, finger-sucking, and pacifier usage is normal for infants and young babies. This habit often begins in the womb and continues after birth to help babies to feel happy and safe as they explore their new world.

However, we do like to see the pacifier eliminated as soon as possible, with the AAP and most sleep and airway specialists likely to see if gone by 6 months old after SIDS risk has dropped!! The sooner the better to avoid emotional attachment.

The thumb is trickier, but most children will drop it on their own by 4-5 years old. If I could wave a magic wand, I would have these habits stop as early as possible, but alas, no magic here…yet At NoPo Kids we offer many pacifiers and thumb-sucking elimination strategies to families, from cold-turkey with pacifiers, to a positive-reinforcement program for the thumb, so be sure to ask more about this at your appointment!

HOW DOES IT AFFECT MY CHILD’S TEETH AND JAWS?

As your child grows, thumb-sucking and pacifier usage may cause problems with the proper growth and development of his or her mouth. These include jaw misalignment, tooth decay, palate narrowing, slanting of teeth, mouth sores, and altered bites or malocclusions. As a result, children may have speech issues, difficulty eating, start mouth breathing or snoring, an possibly have sleep-disordered breathing issues. It can be a really big deal, with concerns going far beyond esthetics, involving actual function and airway development. Children who continue thumb-sucking and pacifier usage into childhood are more likely to need orthodontic treatment, myofunctional therapy, and/or speech therapy.

HOW CAN I HELP MY CHILD BREAK THIS HABIT?

As mentioned above, it is a normal habit developed in the womb and seen as a method of soothing or calming oneself. Every child is different so there may be a period of trial and error as you find a method that works for your child. Remember to be patient as he or she discovers a new way to be calmed. Also, it is key to find a time that is emotionally right for your family. I would suggest avoiding elimination strategies around any travel, moving, life stressors, or big changes like a new sibling, or if sleep or potty training. There will be a sweet spot to start the process of getting habits to drop and you will know when the time is right for you and your child.

We have a few considerations and tips you can use to discourage your child from sucking on his or her thumb, pacifier, or fingers.

  • Use positive reinforcement. If your child accomplishes a task without sucking on his or her thumb or pacifier, show praise for doing a good job. Charts are amazing tools here and we have some available for you here on our website or in the office.
  • Often these habits are used to comfort or soothe a child during stressful times. Focus on correcting the cause of anxiety and provide alternate forms of comfort such as a special toy, blanket, or a Myomunchee. Sing a happy song or read a story to soothe him or her into a state of comfort.
  • For older children, involve them in the process. Discuss with them why they should stop so that they understand the reasoning behind your discouragement.
  • For the thumb, little reminders or distractors help, like bandaids, thumb-gloves, silicone chew necklaces, fidget spinners, or Myomucnhees.

We are here for you and your child. Contact us if you have any questions, concerns, or if you would like us to aid in encouraging your child to stop their pacifier or thumb-sucking habit. And remember, your child will not graduate college sucking on their paci or fingers…promise!
For more information on the effects of thumb-sucking and pacifier usage, contact NoPo Kids Dentistry today.

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